The TLR7 agonist imiquimod induces anti-cancer effects via autophagic cell death and enhances anti-tumoral and systemic immunity during radiotherapy for melanoma

Jeong Hyun Cho, Hyo Ji Lee, Hyun Jeong Ko, Byung Il Yoon, Jongseon Choe, Keun Cheol Kim, Tae Wook Hahn, Jeong A. Han, Sun Shim Choi, Young Mee Jung, Kee Ho Lee, Yun Sil Lee, Yu Jin Jung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations

Abstract

Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands are strongly considered immune-adjuvants for cancer immunotherapy and have been shown to exert direct anti-cancer effects. This study was performed to evaluate the synergistic anti-cancer and anti-metastatic effects of the TLR7 agonist imiquimod (IMQ) during radiotherapy for melanoma. The pretreatment of B16F10 or B16F1 cells with IMQ combined with γ-ionizing radiation (IR) led to enhanced cell death via autophagy, as demonstrated by increased expression levels of autophagy-related genes, and an increased number of autophagosomes in both cell lines. The results also confirmed that the autophagy process was accelerated via the reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated MAPK and NF-κB signaling pathway in the cells pretreated with IMQ combined with IR. Mice subcutaneously injected with melanoma cells showed a reduced tumor growth rate after treatment with IMQ and IR. Treatment with 3-methyladenine (3-MA), ameliorated the anti-cancer effect of IMQ combined with IR. Additionally, the combination therapy enhanced anti-cancer immunity, as demonstrated by an increased number of CD8+ T cells and decreased numbers of regulatory T cells (Treg) and myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the tumor lesions. Moreover, the combination therapy decreased the number of metastatic nodules in the lungs of mice that were injected with B16F10 cells via the tail vein. In addition, the combination therapy enhanced systemic anti-cancer immunity by increasing the abundances of T cell populations expressing IFN-γ and TNF-α. Therefore, these findings suggest that IMQ could serve as a radiosensitizer and immune booster during radiotherapy for melanoma patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24932-24948
Number of pages17
JournalOncotarget
Volume8
Issue number15
DOIs
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2012R1A1A2006349) and by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning of the Republic of Korea (2014M2B2A9030381, 2014M2B2A4030326 and 2015M2B2A6028602). Funding was also provided by a 2015 Research Grant from Kangwon National University (D1000405-01-01).

Keywords

  • Autophagy
  • Imiquimod (IMQ)
  • Melanoma
  • Radiotherapy
  • TLR7

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